That may have worked in the past, but I strongly doubt a facelift of current church offerings will connect with those outside of church. Their concerns and connection points are well beyond the walls of the church, and that is where we must go. To those on the outside, church is for church people who hate gays, vote republican, judge, evangelize, force their views on other people, and are generally stuck up and mean. Would any person willingly go to a place with even one of those negative associations tacked on to it? Whether or not these stereotypes are true, they cover the church like a tacky paint job.
Whereas the pragmatic church moved from programs to relationships in a previously “churched” context, the emerging church requires a reversal. Relationships must precede programs, if programs enter the picture at all. Even if you start a program, effectiveness is proportional to the priority given to relationships. And with relationships as our goal, here is what you can do about the emerging church today.
I have never met a member of the emerging church who would refuse a mentor relationship, even if the mentor is into pragmatic church. If the mentor is willing to hear them out and extend a little grace and patience, any church leader can easily connect with a small part of the emerging church.
Start with one person. Get to know him/her, challenge blind spots, pray together, encourage one another, and help him/her figure out God’s calling. This person may never help with your current programs and may even leave your church to find a placed that’s more in line with God’s calling. But I would guess that investing in just one person in the emerging church will open your eyes to new ministry opportunities. Those in the emerging church know what ministries to the unreached will not work and they may even have some innvations of their own. Just be ready for this: it will most likely NOT take place in your church facility.
Relationships are the starting point. Before you sit down and strategize, go out to a diner or hang out at a coffee shop with someone in the emerging church.
If you are thinking of how you can attract people to your church building, stop it. Stop it right this minute. The words “come” and “join” should be curse words. Scream, yell, kick, punch, and have a fit when someone suggests anything of the sort. You should question the salvation of any one who would suggest that someone outside of church “come” or “join”.
Well, not really, but remember, church is for “church” people. We cannot expect to attract people by polishing our product. When you are inside your church building you have an infectious disease, a scarlet letter, you are untouchable, a walking faux pas. Get out, get out while you can, while there’s still time.
When we begin to think about putting ourselves in the uncomfortable position of going to a new place, we are eliminating barriers for the Gospel. Taking it to where the people are, and not setting an elaborate trap means we are well on our way with the emerging church.
Blog and Read
While reading books such as The Younger Evangelicals or Emerging Churches is good, such an investment becomes expensive if you don’t have a way to borrow them. In that case, read blogs and, most important of all, weigh in with your thoughts. Go to Andrew Jones at tallskinnykiwi.com, Doub Pagitt’s blog, Steve Taylor’s blog at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz, and Ryan Bolg’s Blog for starters.
And if it was not too harrowing to read blogs and post a few comments, this may be. Start your own blog. Find out who blogs in your church community, especially among those who identify with the emerging church. Put your ideas out there on the line and see what happens. Let people know you are in a learning process, open to discussion. If the medium is the message, then an interactive blog is a good way to go.
Blogs also reinforce the emerging church emphasis on relationships. Even if the online community seems a bit disconnected from the real world, many relationships are started, maintained, or ended on blogs and message boards.
Accept Defeat in a Battle in Order to Win the War
Accept the fact that many people will never come to Jesus if they have to cross the threshold of a church. If you can swallow that bitter pill, you have admitted defeat in one battle. Now you are ready to win the war.
Here are some things you can do today in order to win the war.
Join a book group. Help out with your local government. Volunteer at an arts center. Drive meals to people. Get out and meet people. Start a discussion group at a coffee shop. Attend a lecture and offer to lead a discussion on a future topic.
When we are out and about, we are ready to build relationships. Don’t worry about numbers. Don’t look at those tracts stuffed in a drawer at your house or shelved on a lonely rack at your church. Just get out there, make friends, have people over for dinner, let God make of it what he will, don’t force spiritual discussions, but boldly seize the moment for the Gospel when it comes.
You may have to cut back on programs and activities. You may have to allocate certain people away from your church in order to send them out. That’s OK, Jesus said so. He wants us to go, not to stay and invite. Take that first step out and see who follows. When you have amazing stories of how God’s working, the true disciples will want the same thing.